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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 09-12-19

Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>

Saturday, 19 December 2009 Issue No: 3378

CONTENTS

  • [01] PM on Greek economy, UN climate summit
  • [02] Papandreou address to climate summit
  • [03] Papandreou has brief meeting with Fyrom's president Ivanov
  • [04] Government meets migrant organisations, discusses illegal migration issues
  • [05] Citizens' Protection Minister on Int'l Migrants Day
  • [06] KKE's Papariga on Thursday's strike
  • [07] PASOK proposes further Parliamentary probe into Vatopedi case
  • [08] Government launches dialogue on tax reforms
  • [09] Meeting with UK Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • [10] Finmin: Greece fight to shed image of unreliability
  • [11] Defence ministry on the Skaramanga shipyards
  • [12] Greek farming incomes up 1% in 2009
  • [13] BoG Provopoulos meets with Hellenic Bank Association
  • [14] Demonstration by 'stage' employees outside labour ministry
  • [15] Greek current account deficit narrows in Jan-Oct 2009
  • [16] Q3 unemployment at 9.3%
  • [17] Athens Stock Exchange opening: Decline
  • [18] Stocks end week 1.23 pct down
  • [19] ADEX closing report
  • [20] Greek bond market closing report
  • [21] Foreign Exchange rates - Saturday/Monday
  • [22] Main north-south highway closed due to landslide
  • [23] Reppas on the closed Tempi Valley national motorway section
  • [24] Archbishop Ieronymos addresses the Church Hierarchy
  • [25] Submerged Ptolemaic-era pylon raised from Alexandria sea
  • [26] Former Siemens-case magistrate before disciplinary council
  • [27] Trilateral police collaboration dismantles int'l cocaine trafficking ring
  • [28] Four caught with 14.5 kilos hashish
  • [29] Bomb placed at PASOK MP's offices
  • [30] PASOK offices vandalised
  • [31] Drug trafficking arrests
  • [32] Human trafficker arrested
  • [33] Foreign national arrested for the rape of underage girl
  • [34] Two men poisoned after eating wild mushrooms
  • [35] Spanish EU Presidency ready to contribute to a Cyprus solution Politics

  • [01] PM on Greek economy, UN climate summit

    COPENHAGEN (ANA-MPA - G. Milionis)

    Greece has the support of its European partners in the effort to get its economy back on track, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou stressed here on Friday, during a press conference on the sidelines of the UN climate summit.

    "They feel confident, on their part, that we are proceeding down a path with our own package [of measures] but with very specific targets," Papandreou told reporters.

    Regarding the criticism levelled against Greece over its economic policy, the Greek premier said that markets did not take into account whether there had been a change in government and were waiting to see the results of policy in practice.

    At the same time, he pointed to the paradox that credit-rating agencies answerable to no one could 'make or break' economies run by democratically elected governments and also questioned the infallibility of their assessments, pointing out that the very same credit-rating agencies had give A ratings to banks that had collapsed the next day.

    He stressed that the government had a programme and a series of measures that it had decided on and would stick to, which would lead the country to a green economy.

    "We are not taking half-measures. If we took them we might possibly sound better to international markets. We have received a mandate for deep changes. This is the dilemma in Copenhagen. Humanity is changing," Papandreou underlined, while noting that Greece had lagged behind in the last five years and had a big distance to cover.

    Regarding the duration of the pressures on Greece, Papandreou predicted that these would continue and be constant.

    "The Greek people, with its government, will prove that we can turn this around, with our own programme and the priorities set by the Greek government," he underlined.

    Concerning the results of the climate change talks in Copenhagen, Papandreou pointed to the large reduction of greenhouse gases by 30 percent offered by the European Union, noting that this would be compensated by the momentum created in the EU and Greece toward a more rapid change of the production model, with the development of new technologies and investments.

    "It is an opportunity for us, to succeed in setting the goal of reducing emissions to 30 percent and increasing our forests. There will be an organised European policy that will support even greater change in this sector," Papandreou said.

    He left open the possibility, despite progress made in the talks on Thursday, that a final agreement would not be achieved or might not be signed by all countries, adding that this would lead to another summit in less than a year to create a new momentum.

    Both Papandreou and Greece's Environment and Climate Change Minister Tina Birbili noted the pivotal role the EU would play in achieving an agreement, pointing out that neither China nor the United States had brought anything new to the negotiations.

    Deputy Foreign Minister for climate change issues Spyros Kouvelis, on his part, underlined that the Greek delegation had been actively involved and present at all international meetings held at Copenhagen.

    "[Greece] is beginning to appear as a force that is pushing an agenda for a different model of growth," he pointed out.

    On the sidelines of the climate summit, the Greek prime minister met a number of foreign leaders. There was also a brief meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama during the dinner for heads of state and government held during the climate summit. During this meeting, Obama apparently said that he hoped to receive Papandreou for talks in the United States during the new year.

    During the same dinner, Papandreou met Turkish President Abdullah Gul and discussed bilateral relations and the Cyprus issue.

    [02] Papandreou address to climate summit

    In his address to the climate summit on Thursday, the Greek premier had stressed that the Copenhagen summit was a historic moment in the history of humanity.

    "At this time, we are observing the birth of global governance. We must, however, agree to an obligation and be committed to carrying this out," he stressed.

    Regarding Greece's contribution, he said that as a traditional naval force and leader in maritime transport, Greece would like to see the International Maritime Organisation undertake responsibility for the reduction of greenhouse gases by shipping, stressing that this point should be incorporated into any agreement reached at Copenhagen.

    The Greek premier also noted Greece's willingness to undertake initiatives in collaboration with the Spanish presidency of the EU and with the countries of the Balkans and the Black Sea.

    Noting the EU's readiness to commit to a 30 percent reduction in emissions, he stressed that this offer had to be matched by other developed countries, such as the United States, which should also bring ambitious plans to the negotiating table.

    [03] Papandreou has brief meeting with Fyrom's president Ivanov

    Prime Minister George Papandreou on Thursday had a brief meeting with fYRoM president Georgi Ivanov following the latter's request in Copenhagen.

    According to an announcement by Ivanov's office, the Fyrom president welcomed the dialogue between the two countries, which as he said, may contribute to establish trust and will further enhance the understanding between the two countries.

    At the meeting, Ivanov said that the "name issue" is remnant of past time and what he called past "prejudices", without further expanding.

    [04] Government meets migrant organisations, discusses illegal migration issues

    Members of the government on Friday met representatives of migrant organisations in order to mark International Migrants Day.

    The meeting with migrant organisations was attended by Interior Minister Yiannis Ragoussis, Deputy Interior Minister Theodoros Tzakri, and migrant policy general secretary Andreas Takis. They were briefed on the views and problems faced by migrants in Greece, while the minister promised that migrants will have the right to vote at the next municipal elections of November 2010, as well as a solution to the nationality issues for second-generation immigrant children.

    Meanwhile, a special government working group on illegal migration issues convened for the first time at the Citizens' Protection Ministry, under Deputy Citizens Protection Minister Spyros Vougias.

    According to Vougias, the government's aim was to completely transform the regime governing the stay of illegal migrants in Greece during 2010. He noted that the current state of affairs embarrassed the country abroad, had turned the centre of Athens into a ghetto and caused rising crime levels by immigrants lacking any means of livelihood or a way to return to their own country.

    Vougias particularly stressed the need to improve conditions at reception centres where illegal migrants were detained when caught, which he said offended human dignity.

    The government working team, which includes representatives of the citizens' protection, interior and health ministries, will examine plans to set up Migrant Management and Registration centres in Evros, islands of the Aegean and other areas of the country where the migrant problem was most acute. Also participating are representatives of 14 independent and non-governmental bodies dealing with immigrant issues, including the UN High Commission for Refugees, the Ombudsman, Red Cross and others.

    He said such centres would gradually begin operating in 2010 and migrants caught attempting to enter Greece illegally would be registered, their identity ascertained, be subjected to medical examinations. Unaccompanied minors and those applying for political asylum would then be forwarded to the interior of the country, while the rest would be deported.

    [05] Citizens' Protection Minister on Int'l Migrants Day

    "The global economic recession is a source of social inequalities, unemployment, poverty and social exclusion," Citizen Protection Minister Mihalis Chrysochoidis underlined Friday in his message on the occasion of the International Migrants Day.

    "The migration wave raises major humanitarian, social and economic issues that add up to the already harsh reality experienced by western societies," Chysochoidis said, pointing out that "the new reality in turn creates friction, hostile attitudes, xenophobic or racist, that make the immigrant a target and an outcast of the social process."

    Chrysochoidis mentioned that a new Asylum Agency assisted by new infrastructure (Centers for the Registration and Management of Illegal Migrants) and complementary hospitality structures, meeting European and international standards, will replace the current chaotic asylum granting process. In addition, the responsible authorities will receive good behavior guidelines to be followed when they are in transaction with vulnerable and minority group members, including the children of immigrants and victims of discrimination because of their religion and culture.

    Chryssochoidis also referred to the special website (<http://chrisochoidis-metanastes.blogspot.com>) created for the immigrants.

    [06] KKE's Papariga on Thursday's strike

    Communist Party of Greece (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga stressed that labourers "must show great endurance" in a tough battle that lies ahead of them during the next two to three years.

    She made the statements on Thursday, concerning the general strike called by the KKE-affiliated union faction PAME, which was not supported by other factions within the General Confederation of Employees of Greece (GSEE) umbrella trade union organisation.

    She condemned GSEE's decision to term the strike illegal, as well as the fact that it called the dockworkers strike "a huge victory" when it had been judged illegal by a court ruling.

    [07] PASOK proposes further Parliamentary probe into Vatopedi case

    Ruling PASOK's Parliamentary group on Friday submitted a proposal for a Parliamentary investigation of the Vatopedi Monastery land swaps affair to Parliament's President.

    The proposal notes that the previous Parliamentary probe had devoted little more than a month to the issue because the then Parliamentary majority was seeking a cover-up and that this had not allowed crucial aspects of the case to be explored.

    Financial News

    [08] Government launches dialogue on tax reforms

    Greece's Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou on Friday announced the launch of dialogue on much-needed tax reforms, with the focus on curbing rampant tax evasion and broadening the tax base. The initiative came hard on news that the credit rating agency Standard and Poor's had downgraded Greece's credit rating from A- to BBB+.

    Standard and Poor's on Wednesday became the second credit-rating agency to cut Greece's ratings after Fitch, citing doubts that the measures announced by the new government would manage to rein in the country's rapidly escalating public debt.

    The first meeting of the dialogue coordinators will take place next Tuesday, following by a meeting on Wednesday by the various working groups. Public dialogue will take place concurrently and end in January, while the finalised draft bill is to be tabled in Parliament in early March.

    During a press conference on Friday, Papaconstantinou noted that tax revenues as a percentage of GDP were actually falling and were among the lowest in the European Union. Specifically, he noted that tax revenues came to 21.8 percent of GDP in 2001 and had fallen to 19.6 percent of GDP in 2004 and finally 19 percent of GDP in 2009.

    This was significantly lower than the equivalent amounts in the rest of Europe, where tax revenues came to 25 percent of GDP in the Eurozone and 26 percent of GDP in the EU.

    The minister underlined that, based on these figures, it was clear that public revenues could be and should be increased and the tax base broadened, since the largest proportion of taxes was currently paid by a very small percentage of tax-payers, mainly salaried employees with a middle income. Indicatively, salaried employees currently declared an average income of 14,400 euros a year, pensioners an average income of 11,800 euros a year, business owners 10,400 euros a year and free-lance professionals 9,000 euros a year.

    Papaconstantinou identified the main problems of the current taxation system as those of extensive tax evasion and tax avoidance, a taxation scale with limited progressiveness, a lack of inspection mechanisms, the lack of incentives for tax-payers to comply and disclose taxable income and finally, distortions caused by the taxation system itself, such as pointless tax exemptions, special taxation rates and other problems.

    He said that the government sought to establish a taxation system that was fair, redistributive, efficient, simple and transparent and that the changes would affect all categories of taxation and tax-payers.

    Among the envisaged changes he cited a more general use of statements indicating the source of income and assets by individuals, a uniform progressive tax scale linked to the Consumer Price Index for all incomes, different methods of taxing dividends and taxation of stock market gains.

    Potential changes for businesses will be requiring them to have a dedicated bank account linked to IT systems and to which tax services have access, as well as taxation of transactions with offshore companies.

    Concerning the taxation of real estate, Papaconstantinou announced plans to reintroduce inheritance taxes with a higher tax-free limit and the progressive taxation of large real estate holdings from 2010.

    The above will be combined with measures to boost the efficiency of tax office inspection mechanisms in order to combat tax evasion, including the firing of tax officials whose assets cannot be justified on the basis of their income and the assets they have declared in previously submitted statements of income and assets.

    Other measures will concern the electronic monitoring of the fuel market to stamp out contraband, introducing an IT cross-checking system and carrying out inspections and obliging business people and freelance professionals to publish their income and taxes on the Internet.

    [09] Meeting with UK Chancellor of the Exchequer

    The Greek finance minister was back in Athens on Friday after visiting London on Thursday, where he met Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling and informed him of the measures that the Greek government intends to take in order to bring its public deficit and debt into line with EU requirements.

    His contacts in the British capital also included meetings with UK investors and some major media organizations, among them the Financial Times.

    Reporting on the results of these meetings, Papaconstantinou reported a lack of information abroad about what precisely is happening in Greece at this time and said the meeting had led to one of the few positive reports about the country that appeared on Thursday.

    He stressed that the government would continue to broadcast the message abroad that it was determined to carry out a deep-reaching and serious effort to tidy up Greece's public finances.

    Asked how the government intended to deal with the budget deficit, he said measures will be taken to change the way in which the budget is drawn up.

    "We will begin from scratch to evaluate spending and we are carrying out a major tax reform. These are serious changes," he emphasized.

    Papaconstantinou told reporters on Friday that he was in constant communication with the credit-rating agency Moody's and others and would battle throughout 2010 to convince both foreign markets and Greece's European partners that Greece was on the right track.

    Based on the results of his three-day tour of European capitals and his talks with foreign institutional investors in Europe, the finance minister said that they appeared to have adopted a "wait-and-see" stance toward Greece, with all sides waiting to be convinced that there was a plan for exiting the crisis that was actually being carried out.

    He stressed that reversing this image in 2010 would determine whether the country was able to borrow at reasonable prices in order to service the public debt.

    [10] Finmin: Greece fight to shed image of unreliability

    The government was fighting a battle to reverse an image of complete unreliability created by its predecessor, Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said in Parliament on Friday while replying to a question tabled by Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) MP Adonis Georgiadis.

    "The current government is behaving responsibly toward the citizens and has specific policies for dealing with the problems created by clientelist practices," he stressed.

    He also accused the previous New Democracy government of laid Greece open to criticism and attacks from international credit rating agencies and foreign media through its policies, lies and the complete disparity between its words and actions.

    "Even though we are members of the Eurozone, we have not been playing by Eurozone rules," he added.

    [11] Defence ministry on the Skaramanga shipyards

    The ministry of defense announced Friday that Dr. Hans Christoph Atzpodien, Chairman of the Management Board of Business Area Marine Systems of ThyssenKrupp AG, notified the Greek State that the ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems regards the Abu Dhabi Mar as the only reliable and selectable solution for the future of the Hellenic Shipyards SA.

    In a letter addressed to Defence Minister Evangelos Venizelos and Economy, Competitiveness and Shipping Minister Louka Katseli received on Thursday afternoon it is pointed out that ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems and Abu Dhabi Mar are already cooperating in shipping activities in Germany.

    It is also mentioned that ThyssenKrupp intends to retain roughly 25 pct of its capital share in the Skaramanga shipyards and transfer 75 pct to Abu Dhabi Mar.

    The renegotiation of issues that concern the Hellenic Shipyards SA and the building of Greek Navy ships is suggested to take place by Jan. 20, 2010.

    The defence ministry statement mentions that the ThyssenKrupp proposal will be assessed by the advisory investment bank Lazard Ltd appointed by the Greek government. The position of the Greek State will be shaped in a ministerial meeting on Monday, Dec. 21.

    [12] Greek farming incomes up 1% in 2009

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA - V. Demiris)

    Farming incomes in Greece rose 1 percent during 2009 relative to the previous year, according to figures released on Friday by the European statistics agency Eurostat.

    During the same year, average farming incomes throughout the 27 EU member-states fell by 12.2 percent.

    The figures show that the average farming income in Greece during 2009 stood at 97.6 percent of the EU average farming income of 2005, while that in the 27 EU member-states stood at 98.3 percent of the 2005 average income.

    Farming incomes in 2009 dropped most in Hungary (-35.6 percent), Italy (-25.3 percent) and Luxembourg (-25.1 percent). Farming incomes increased in Cyprus (1.1 percent), Finland (2.6 percent), Malta (9.6 percent) and the United Kingdom (14.3 percent).

    [13] BoG Provopoulos meets with Hellenic Bank Association

    Bank of Greece (BoG) Governor George Provopoulos met Friday with the Hellenic Bank Association board members and outlined the BoG positions as regards the ministry of finance draft laws on the settlement of the debts of businesses and over-borrowing by households, as well as on the operation of "Tiresias" inter-banking and credit monitoring system.

    On over-borrowing by households, the BoG suggests the inclusion of safety valves in the draft law, while on the draft law concerning the settlement of business debts the BoG warns that the beneficial regulations could be exploited by credit recipients that are not in real need. As regards "Tiresias", the BoG is against the adoption of a general amnesty.

    [14] Demonstration by 'stage' employees outside labour ministry

    Groups of people employed through the Stage vocational training programmes organised a demonstration outside the labour ministry on Friday, demanding to keep their jobs and be employed on a permanent basis. They departed without incident in the afternoon.

    Condemning the take over of ministry facilities as "violent and arbitrary", Labour Minister Andreas Loverdos told in Parliament on Friday that trade unionists affiliated "to a specific political area" were behind the demonstration.

    [15] Greek current account deficit narrows in Jan-Oct 2009

    Greece's current accounts deficit fell by 26.2 pct in the January-October period this year, totaling 20.8 billion euros, in comparison with the corresponding period last year, the Bank of Greece announced on Friday.

    The central bank, in a report, said this development reflected mainly a major decline in imports and thus in the trade deficit, down 32.5 pct relative to the previous year. At the same time, however, there were also significant declines in foreign exchange from tourism (11.4 pct) and shipping (31.9 pct).

    The country's trade deficit fell by 12.354 billion euros in the 10-month period, reflecting a 6.684-billion-euro drop in the trade deficit of goods other than fuel and ships, a 4.349-billion-euros decline in fuel imports and a 1.321-billion-euros fall in net payments for the purchase of ships. Import payments fell 25.8 pct, while export receipts fell by 19.6 pct in the January-October period.

    A decline in the services surplus by 4.339 billion euros in the 10-month period mainly reflected lower net proceeds from transport and travel services. Gross transport services' revenues (mainly commercial shipping) dropped 31.9 pct to 3.094 billion euros, while travel spending in Greece by non-residents fell 11.4 pct.

    The incomes deficit shrank by 658 million euros compared with the same period in 2008, reflecting lower net payments in dividends, interest and earnings, while the current transfers surplus fell by 1.268 billion euros.

    The current accounts and capital transfers deficit (reflecting the economy's needs for financing from abroad) totaled 2.475 million euros in October 2009, significantly lower than the 3.703 million euros total during the corresponding month in 2008. During the 10-month period January-October 2009, this deficit came to 19.286 million euros, down 23.5 percent relative to the same period in 2008.

    [16] Q3 unemployment at 9.3%

    Unemployment was recorded at 9.3 percent in the third quarter of 2009, up from 7.2 percent in the corresponding period of 2008, according to figures released on Friday by the National Statistics Service.

    The number of employed people during the same period exceeded to 4.54 million. The number of unemployed increased by 128,234 people.

    Unemployment among women was at 13.1 percent, 6.6 percent for men.

    By region, the highest unemployment was recorded in the Western Macedonia region, 11.4 percent, followed by Eastern Macedonia-Thrace, 11 percent, while the lowest rates were in Ionian Islands with 5.1 percent, and the Northern Aegean region with 5.4 percent.

    [17] Athens Stock Exchange opening: Decline

    Equity prices were declining at the opening of trade on Friday on the Athens Stock Exchange (ASE), with the basic share price index down 0.37 percent, standing at 2,187.28 points at 11:15 a.m., and turnover at 33.6 million euros.

    Individual sector indices were moving mostly downward, with the biggest gains in Insurance, up 5.23 percent; Travel and Recreation, up 2.25 percent and Public Utilities, up 1.41 percent.

    The biggest losses were in Construction, down 1.20 percent; Health, down 1.14 percent; Telecoms, down 0.85 percent.

    The FTSE/ASE 20 index for blue chip and heavily traded stocks was down 0.39 percent, the FTSE/ASE MID 40 index was down 0.47 percent, and the FTSE/ASE-80 small cap index was up 0.40 percent.

    Of the stocks moved, 49 were up, 42 were down, and 36 were unchanged.

    [18] Stocks end week 1.23 pct down

    Stocks ended 1.23 percent down at close of trade on the Athens bourse on Friday, with the composite index of the Athens Stock Exchange falling to 2,168.43 points and turnover a moderate 195.7 million euros.

    Most sectors moved downward, with Health (6.74 pct), Insurance (4.03 pct) and Public Utilities (2.38 pct) posting the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Banks (-2.30 pct), Financial Services (-2.18 pct) and Telecoms (-2.08 pct) were the biggest losers.

    The FTSE 20 index dropped by 1.70 pct, the FTSE 40 index dropped by 0.41 pct and the FTSE 80 index posted fell by 0.78 pct. Advancers led decliners by 97 to 87, while another 56 issues were unchanged.

    Sector indices ended as follows:

    Insurance: +4.03%

    Industrials: -1.27%

    Commercial: -0.54%

    Construction: -1.93%

    Media: +0.84%

    Oil & Gas: -0.66%

    Personal & Household: -0.30%

    Raw Materials: -1.41%

    Travel & Leisure: -0.70%

    Technology: +1.78%

    Telecoms: -2.08%

    Banks: -2.30%

    Food & Beverages: +1.19%

    Health: +6.74%

    Utilities: +2.38%

    Chemicals: +0.62%

    Financial Services: -2.18%

    The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Alpha Bank, HBC Coca Cola and OTE.

    Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:

    Alpha Bank: 8.05

    ATEbank: 1.89

    Public Power Corp (PPC): 13.69

    HBC Coca Cola: 15.80

    Hellenic Petroleum: 8.14

    National Bank of Greece: 17.41

    EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 7.62

    Intralot: 3.93

    OPAP: 15.16

    OTE: 10.36

    Bank of Piraeus: 7.85

    Titan: 20.37

    [19] ADEX closing report

    The March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at a discount of 0.93 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Friday, with turnover falling to 69.385 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 8,587 contracts, worth 50.262 million euros, with 17,712 open positions in the market.

    Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 38,590 contracts worth 19.123 million euros, with investment interest focusing on OTE's contracts (5,362) followed by MIG (4,847), National Bank (4,041), Marfin Popular Bank (3,862), Atebank (3,728), Mytilineos (2,939), Hellenic Postbank (1,956) and Alpha Bank (1,734).

    [20] Greek bond market closing report

    The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds increased to 260 basis points in the Greek electronic secondary bond market on Friday, with the Greek bond yielding 5.74 pct and the German Bund 3.14 pct. Turnover was 1.8 billion euros.

    In interbank markets, interest rates were unchanged. The 12-month Euribor rate was 1.23 pct, the six-month rate 0.66 pct, the three-month 0.71 pct and the one-month rate 0.43 pct.

    [21] Foreign Exchange rates - Saturday/Monday

    Reference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:

    U.S. dollar 1.445

    Pound sterling 0.894

    Danish kroner 7.501

    Swedish kroner 10.541

    Japanese yen 130.72

    Swiss franc 1.507

    Norwegian kroner 8.462

    Canadian dollar 1.541

    Australian dollar 1.628

    General News

    [22] Main north-south highway closed due to landslide

    Greece's main north-south highway remained closed on Friday at the Tempi Valley intersection, along the Malliakos Gulf 'horseshoe', north-central Greece, after a major landslide on Thursday killed a 62-year-old motorist.

    The victim, identified as an Italian engineer, was killed when boulders smashed into the vehicle he was driving. The deceased was the project director of the bridge being constructed at the site, who had just arrived with other employees of the Malliakos-Kleidi consortium to inspect damage caused by falling rocks at the same spot on Tuesday and Wednesday. Another landslide occurred as the 62-year-old engineer and the consortium employees arrived in two cars. The five employees, who were in one car, heard the noise and quickly abandoned the vehicle, resulting in light injuries to two of them, but the engineer, who was alone in the second vehicle, was killed when a boulder crashed onto his car.

    According to authorities, the particular stretch of the Athens-Thessaloniki highway where the landslide occurred will remain closed for at least one month's period, with vehicles expected to use alternate routes, all of which will add hours of drive time.

    Swiss experts have arrived in the country to advise on stabilisation works at the specific site, one of Greece's best-known and rugged canyons.

    [23] Reppas on the closed Tempi Valley national motorway section

    Infrastructure, Transports and Networks Minister Dimitris Reppas stated on Friday that the Tempi Valley section of the Athens-Thessaloniki national motorway will be closed for at least a month as a result of the major landslide on Thursday that virtually cut Greece in half and killed one person.

    Reppas in statements he made in the city of Larissa, central Greece, stressed that a clearer picture of the situation will be available on Monday, when the extent of the problem will be fully assessed by Greek and foreign experts who will suggest solutions.

    The minister referred to the use of alternate routes namely, the Larissa-Elassona-Kozani road, the Larissa-Elassona-Katerini road and the Larissa Prefecture coastal road, all of which will have to undergo improvements to cope with the increased traffic due to the holiday season.

    [24] Archbishop Ieronymos addresses the Church Hierarchy

    The country's present political and social situation in relation with the Church was underlined by Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece, who addressed the extraordinary meeting of the Holy Synod on Friday.

    The Archbishop referred specifically to the positive relations between the Church and the new government, the Prime Minister George Papandreou in particular, with whom he met twice and discussed all pending issues that concern the Church.

    Archbishop Ieronymos stated that the main issues discussed in the meetings he had with the prime minister were Church-State relations, improving the position and education of the clergy, Church property and its welfare work, the Church's pilot programmes for the rehabilitation of drug addicts, Church participation in developmental projects, such as socially oriented institutions and culture centers, its concerns stemming from the decay of moral values observed in society and the upbringing of the young.

    The Archbishop stated that they agreed with the prime minister on the need for Church-State collaboration and the establishment of committees to discuss specific issues.

    Addressing the Church Hierarchy, Archbishop Ieronymos also referred to the Church's social work and the roughly 700 institutions operated by the Church that spend 100 million euros annually on charitable and social works and underlined that the Church should be treated as other legal entities in terms of taxation.

    He pointed out that for the year 2009 the Church has decided to pay the taxes that correspond to its real estate property that yields income.

    Ieronymos reiterated that the mode of the election of the hierarchs must be changed, pointing out that the issue of the Church membership, clergy and laity alike should be studied and faced in a serious manner.

    [25] Submerged Ptolemaic-era pylon raised from Alexandria sea

    A granite pylon from a Ptolemaic-era temple, found submerged in sea off Alexandria in Egypt, has been transported from the city's Eastern Harbour to the Kom El Dikka Laboratory for conservation and study. The transfer occurred on Thursday, in the presence of Egyptian officials, representatives of the Consulate General of Greece, foreign archaeological missions and the media.

    The nine-ton pylon was raised and transported to the Eastern Harbour earlier this week by archaeologists working with the Greek Mission. It is believed to have formed part of the temple of the 'Hellenized' goddess Isis Lochias that stood in the Royal Ptolemaic quarters, a part of the palace complex dated to the era of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.

    At a press conference held at Fort Quaid Bey, the site of the ancient Pharos or lighthouse, Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosny and the Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities Dr. Zahi Hawass explained the importance of this massive architectural element for the history of Alexandria.

    After a period of conservation that may last between six and eight months, the pylon is destined to go on display at the new Maritime Museum's special section for Underwater Archaeology in Stanley.

    The head of the Hellenic Institute of Ancient and Medieval Alexandrian Studies Dr. Harry Tzalas said the find confirmed that Greek architectural elements in Ptolemaic Alexandria co-existed and often merged with Pharaonic traditions, in the same way that the cult of Isis Lochias would spread throughout the Graeco-Roman world.

    Hawass has also asked the Greek Mission to prepare a report on another over-sized architectural monument found by Greek archaeologists near the pylon at a depth of eight metres. This is a 15-ton block of red granite that was either the architrave or threshold of a monumental door, possibly a part of the Mausoleum of Cleopatra VII, which may be raised by the Greek mission during 2010.

    The recovery of the submerged pylon required a special concession from Egyptian authorities, which had banned the raising of submerged antiquities from the Alexandrian sea in 2002 due to a lack of museum space and conservation resources.

    Dr. Hawass said that the exception was made because the pylon was a unique archaeological find, being the only monolithic pylon in all of Egypt and in Alexandria and because it marked the location of the temple of Isis Lochias, which stood in the immediate vicinity of Cleopatra's Mausoleum.

    [26] Former Siemens-case magistrate before disciplinary council

    Nikos Zagorianos, the examining magistrate that formerly headed the investigation into alleged kickbacks and bribery scandal given by Siemens to Greek officials, on Friday appeared before a five-member disciplinary council that convened to examine his conduct of the case. Zagorianos has been accused of breach of duty and abuse of authority.

    The council examined several witnesses suggested by Zagorianos, and then heard the testimony of Zagorianos himself concerning his actions. It is due to make a decision on whether the magistrate should face disciplinary action within the next few days, while the appellate judges' plenum will convene on January 7 to decide whether criminal charges should be brought against him.

    [27] Trilateral police collaboration dismantles int'l cocaine trafficking ring

    A long collaboration between the ministry of finance Special Audit Service, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the national police of Peru (PINP) that lasted several months led to the break up of an international drug trafficking ring and the confiscation of 20 kilos of cocaine.

    The cocaine was seized on Wednesday and two Serb nationals were arrested in Athens where they had arrived a day earlier to pick up the drugs and carry them to Serbia.

    Last month, one of the suspects had delivered the cocaine to an undercover special agent of the Peruvian police who posed as a businessman active in the sailing boat sector. The drugs were transported to Greece on a sailing boat at a special agent's request.

    Another two individuals, both Serb nationals living in Serbia and Buenos Aires, are also involved in the case and are facing charges.

    [28] Four caught with 14.5 kilos hashish

    Greek authorities on Friday announced the arrest of four foreign nationals caught in possession of 14.5 kilos of hashish. The four, three Albanian men aged 18 to 25 and a 21-year-old woman from Georgia, were caught in the area around the New Railway Station in Thessaloniki.

    [29] Bomb placed at PASOK MP's offices

    A makeshift bomb made of gas canisters exploded late Friday afternoon at the offices of ruling PASOK deputy Nassos Alevras, in central Athens.

    According to the police, the perpetrators placed two gas canisters outside the door of the deputy's offices situated on the fourth floor of the building. Only one of the canisters exlpoded, causing minor damage.

    [30] PASOK offices vandalised

    Unknown perpetrators smashed the glass window-fronts of ruling PASOK party offices in the Athens districts of Dafni, Alimos, Melissia and Kesariani in the early morning hours of Friday.

    Moreover, an arson attack against the PASOK office in the Neo Psychico district was also reported. Police found a home-made explosive device at the site.

    [31] Drug trafficking arrests

    Three local residents were arrested on Thursday in Larissa, central Greece, on drug trafficking charges. Authorities confiscated 2.4 kilos of cannabis, a kilo of heroin and 52.8 grams of cocaine in the possession, according to reports.

    [32] Human trafficker arrested

    Police arrested on Thursday a foreign national on the 49th km of the Larissa-Kozani motorway for human trafficking when police officers found 10 illegal migrants hidden in his vehicle. The suspect will be sent before a local prosecutor.

    [33] Foreign national arrested for the rape of underage girl

    A 24-year-old illegal migrant from Morocco will be led before a public prosecutor on Tuesday, accused of raping a 17-year-old mentally retarded Bulgarian girl in Chania on the southern Aegean island of Crete.

    The assault was reported by the girl's mother and the suspect was arrested after being identified by the victim in a police lineup.

    Last Tuesday, the suspect encountered the victim alone in a park and taking advantage of her disability lured her to an abandoned building and raped her, according to a police statement.

    [34] Two men poisoned after eating wild mushrooms

    Two men aged 30 and 45 years old were hospitalised in Hania, Crete suffering from multiple organ failure due to poisoning from eating wild mushrooms. The 45-year-old is in serious condition and was tranferred to an ICU on Friday. Both men are Romanians, who were working and living in the village of Kalathenes.

    Cyprus Affairs

    [35] Spanish EU Presidency ready to contribute to a Cyprus solution

    BRUSSELS (CNA/ANA-MPA)

    Spanish EU Presidency aims to continue accession talks with Turkey being aware of the difficulties connecting with Cyprus, Foreign Minister of Spain, Miguel Angel Moratinos has said.

    Presenting the programme of the Spanish Presidency of the EU for the first six months of 2010 and replying to a question, Moratinos emphasized the good relations between his country and Turkey but also the excellent relations with Cyprus. "We are in close contact with both sides to encourage them to take forward the ongoing negotiations for the future of Cyprus," the Spanish FM said, adding that there are good perspectives, some progress has been noticed and they will try to help these efforts.

    Moratinos expressed optimism saying that there is good communication between the two sides in the negotiations for the solution of the Cyprus problem adding that they are ready to contribute "because we need a stable negotiation climate with Turkey, while on the other side Cyprus problem must also be solved".

    Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.

    President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat have been engaged in UN-led direct negotiations since September 2008, with an aim to reunify the island.

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